In mathematics, oftentimes tradition dictates a standard to use non-English variables such as using Greek letters to represent ordinals and cardinals in set theory. How can we mark such questions so that someone can type the English equivalent in Google and get directed to that question?

Example: I'd like someone who Googles "H(k)" to be directed to What does $H(\kappa)$ mean?


1 Answer 1


In my opinion, one should not get into the habit of equating Greek and Roman (English) letters. (There is no equivalent of $\psi$ or of $q$; $\lambda$ is a Lagrange multiplier but $\ell$ rarely is; $x$ is an unknown but $\xi$ is something special, etc etc.)

Searching for "h(kappa)" restricted to the Math StackExchange (or even not) does give the desired result.

There is a cost to having a search for Roman letters return results involving the "corresponding" Greek letter. Someone who really is looking for, say, Euler's number $e$ will be burdened by lots of unrelated results involving infinitesimals $\epsilon$.

You could put in something to the effect of: For the benefit of future searchers, the question is "What does H(k) mean?" But others might see that as obtrusive (by which I mean, I would see it as obtrusive). So I would recommend that you should reserve it for questions where you feel it is particularly likely that someone might search for the Roman letter in place of the Greek one, such as, as you say, those at the undergraduate or high school level.

  • $\begingroup$ I know how to search TeX and SE. My goal is for someone who knows neither to be able to type "H(k)" (and some context) into Google and end up here. I don't think we can say there isn't a partial equivalence between Greek and Roman letters. Someone who wants a Greek letter, but doesn't know how to type it with their keyboard is going to use the best equivalent they have on hand: $\alpha$ -> a, $\nu$ -> v, $\omega$ -> w, $\rho$ -> r or p (!), $\chi$ -> x, etc. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2012 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ One doesn't need to know TeX to know that the name of the Greek letter is kappa. I heard the Greek letters' names spoken in lectures and looked them up in books long before I knew what TeX was. (Not a rhetorical question:) Do you think people searching for things involving Greek letters are more likely to romanize them or to spell out their names? Anyway, it turns out I was being overcautious with my link: just h(kappa) without restricting to StackExchange works okay. $\endgroup$
    – user856
    Aug 25, 2012 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Please also see my edit. $\endgroup$
    – user856
    Aug 25, 2012 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ I do think that there are a LOT of students in math classes at the undergraduate (or high school) level that are not "mathematicians" and would not recognize the distinction between many Greek and Roman letters, or perhaps recognize it's Greek but not know what letter it is ($\nu$ has nothing to do with v) or how to spell it. Granted my example is from graduate (or upper undergraduate) set-theory that only mathematicians would encounter, but the question still stands. Does SE or markup support embedding keywords for search engines, and if so, how? $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2012 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Not that I know of, sorry. You could put in something to the effect of: For the benefit of people coming from Google, the question is "What does H(k) mean?" But others might see that as obtrusive. $\endgroup$
    – user856
    Aug 25, 2012 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, originally I started writing this question as a comment on the question's page (which would have accomplished just that), but I thought it better if I addressed the general question in meta. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2012 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ As no one has put forth a feature or policy to do this in the last 24 hrs, would you edit the actual answer to the question (your most recent comment) into your answer up top so I can accept it? $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2012 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if you'll be happy with my edit... :/ $\endgroup$
    – user856
    Aug 27, 2012 at 4:28

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